Derek Fisher Cleared to Return to Lakers: Should LA Bring Back Fan Favorite?

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Derek Fisher Cleared to Return to Lakers: Should LA Bring Back Fan Favorite?
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

For the Los Angeles Lakers, this past year has been all about starting fresh, beginning a new chapter in their history. We think.

Just when you conclude Los Angeles' roster is set in stone, just when you believe the words "purple," "gold" and "stability" are ready to be uttered in the same sentence, Derek Fisher happens.

All third-string-caliber-point-guard hell broke loose when Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported that the Lakers were attempting to create an opening in the backcourt:

It's not feasible for the Lakers to bring back Fisher now, because league rules preclude them from signing a player traded away and then waived (in this case by Houston) for one year after the original deal. Which means March 15, 2013, is the earliest Fisher could legally re-sign with L.A. 

Yet sources with knowledge of the Lakers' thinking say that the team is already trying to create a backcourt opening, having made it clear to the rest of the league that Chris Duhon and Steve Blake are available via trade to any interested party willing to absorb one of those contracts. 

Surely this meant nothing more than Los Angeles was attempting to shed some payroll. After all, would you want to be paying Steve Blake and Chris Duhon nearly $16 million combined over the next two years?

I didn't think so.

Yes, this was just a case of cutting costs and spending funds more efficiently. Fisher isn't eligible to re-sign with the Lakers until March anyway. This meant nothing.

Or perhaps it meant everything.

Stein followed up his original report with an updated one that revealed it was possible for Fisher to return to the Lakers, to return to the open arms of former teammate Kobe Bryant much sooner. Like right now:

Sources briefed on the discussions told ESPN.com on Monday that Fisher has, indeed, been verified by the league office as eligible to re-sign with the Lakers since July 1, which runs counter to the widely held assumption that Fisher had to wait at least one year from the date that the Lakers dealt him to Houston in March before a reunion with Kobe Bryant would be permissible.

The NBA’s new labor agreement stipulates that a player traded and then waived by the team that acquired him can’t re-sign with his original team for one year or until the traded contract runs out—whichever comes first. But in Fisher’s case, confusion surrounding his player option for the 2012-13 season led to the belief in some league circles that he had picked up the option before the Houston Rockets bought him out. In reality, sources confirm, Fisher was bought out by Houston before he was eligible to invoke the 2012-13 option, which means that his contract was deemed to have ended June 30, sending Fisher to full-fledged free agency on July 1. 

What this essentially means is "there are no roadblocks in the rulebook" that prevent Fisher from returning to the Lakers right now.

Now, assuming there is a mutual interest between Los Angeles and Fisher—which we don't have to because Stein goes on to note that there is—should the Lakers bring back the fan favorite that spent 13 seasons donning their uniform?

Well, when I put it that way—no.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant are close, but that's not enough.
Assuming that the Lakers are able to move either Blake or Duhon, Los Angeles seems like a viable destination for Fisher. He's familiar with the environment, knows how to handle Kobe and will come much cheaper than either of his now potential predecessors would.

But that's not enough to outweigh the alarming number of cons that are associated with Fisher returning to the Lakers.

Let's start with the obvious. Fisher is 38, giving him six years on Blake and eight on Duhon. Despite having been a poster child for durability over the last 16 years, there's no guarantee that Fisher's legs hold up next season.

Neither Blake nor Duhon seems like a dramatic upgrade over Fisher, but in a league where age is everything—unless you're Steve Nash—Los Angeles would be wise to avoid getting older.

Then there's the issue of actual performance, the ceiling of potential impact. Let's assume Fisher continues his penchant for durability—does he really stand to help the Lakers as a second- or third-string floor general that much?

Obviously Fisher is much more suited to be a backup than the starter he was in Los Angeles last season, but even in a diminished capacity, he doesn't have the necessary skills to make a positive impact.

This is the aging veteran who averaged just 5.9 points and 3.3 assists per game on 38.3 percent shooting with the Lakers last year. He posted a meager PER of 8.02 last year, and his three-point efficiency dropped nearly eight percentage points to 32.1. Where's the value in that?

And while Blake (8.55 PER) and Duhon (8.39 PER) hardly made a much better case for themselves, they shot 33.5 and 42 percent from behind the arc respectively.

We cannot forget that the Princeton offense calls for plenty of spot-up opportunities, many of which come in the form of corner threes for the point guard. In those scenarios, the Lakers will want the best possible spot-up shooters behind Nash on the floor. Fisher, especially when compared to Blake and Duhon, just doesn't fit that bill.

A look at the role of a point guard in the Princeton offense.
If the Lakers were two-deep at every position, perhaps this would be a different story. Perhaps they could afford to bring back Fisher for sentimental and financial reasons.

But they can't.

Should the Lakers bring back Derek Fisher?

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Even with the impressive offseason Los Angeles had, it is in no position to sacrifice depth for emotional or financial purposes. I'm not saying Blake and Duhon are coming cheap, because they aren't, but at this stage in their careers, they both have higher ceilings than Fisher.

Essentially, bloated salaries and all, Blake and Duhon are the lesser two of three evils.

And when you're point guard rotation—after Nash—is as uncertain as it is, you don't take an unnecessary risk, no matter how inexpensive, on a deteriorating athlete who stands to make less of an impact than those in your current assembly.

So no, this isn't a knock on Fisher, nor is it a criticism of the roster the Lakers have constructed. But it is a strong dose of reality.

And the reality is, the Lakers, prolific moving parts and all, are in no position and simply aren't deep enough to downgrade any aspect of their rotation.

Second- or third-string athletes included.

 

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